Computer Glitch Leads To Brawl At Wauwatosa Kmart

Computer Glitch Leads to Brawl at Wauwatosa Kmart

If this were fiction, I would pan it as being ridiculous and unbelievable. Alas, it is true…

A melee at a Kmart store in Wauwatosa [Wisconsin] Saturday morning was started by a computer glitch.

The store was running a promotion in which it would give away $10 to anyone applying for its credit card, but the computer glitch led to everyone’s application being granted — bestowing up to $4,000 in instant credit to anyone who applied even if they shouldn’t have qualified.

Once word started to spread about the so-called “free money” Saturday, witnesses said things got pretty nuts inside the Wauwatosa store.

Nearly a dozen Wauwatosa squad cars responded to the call just before 11 a.m. Saturday for what was called a large fight in progress.

“It was a nice brawl. It came from inside to outside. If you go up there, you’ll see hair, earrings, all pulled out on the ground,” Wilson said.

What started as a fight between two women in the crowded store evolved when several men intervened.

A store employee got punched in the nose and crashed through a glass display case. He was treated for a broken nose and various cuts.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. The credit application problem was almost certainly caused by a software bug of some kind (a bit more accurate than the imprecise and somewhat generic “computer glitch”). But the fracas was caused by the mob mentality of a group of people lacking both personal moral control and common sense.

To paraphrase a favorite mantra of the NRA, “Computer glitches don’t throw people through display cases — people do.”

The Internet Safety Podcast!

I’ve been a downright delinquent blogger for the past multiple weeks. My apologies to the small but loyal cadre of readers. I’ve been distracted with a few things, including my day job… 😉

I’ve also been distracted with launching the Internet Safety Podcast. It’s been a labor of love and quite a bit of fun so far. My co-host is Joe Brockbank, who was one of my classmates in the Computer Science Department at BYU in the late 1980’s.
Why are we doing this? We want to help parents and families to understand how to maximize the amazing benefits of technology while minimizing the downsides.

We believe the Internet and technology are here to stay. We also believe that parents must become educated. Pulling the plug at home isn’t going to cut it. Your kids are going to be exposed to a variety of technologies, and we have to be in a position as parents to help guide them and keep them safe.

I know I’ve written about some interesting, educational, and just plain silly things over the past year, but this one is a bit more serious and important.

I encourage you to go check it out. If you find it valuable, please let your friends and family members know.

If you have questions you’d like us to address on the podcast, feel free to leave a message on the podcast, or email me directly.

Your mom goes to Facebook

Last spring I joined Facebook. I was doing research on internet safety, and wanted to get a better look at some of the popular social networking phenomena. Facebook seemed like a tame place to take the social networking plunge. Keep in mind that I didn’t do anything there. I just showed up. No picture, no real information about me. Think grandpa with a press pass at a Hannah Montana concert.

My college age kids (two daughters, one son) quickly became excited and added me as a friend. (Nice to know that $200/month in milk for the past 10 years actually meant something to them.) Apparently I was cool for being on Facebook. Sweet! I’ll take it wherever I can get it at this stage. I was added by a few other students that I knew. I invited nobody, and lurked occasionally. Still posted no picture. Don’t want to appear like I’m taking this too seriously. Just an adult passing by the sandbox. Moving along. Just an old guy. Nothing to see here. As you were, children.

So I lurked… and surfed… like once or twice a month. I learned a few things on Facebook–like the unmarried daughter now had a boyfriend. Isn’t that something? I live 12 miles away, and am a professor on the very campus where this sweet daughter of mine attends college, and I learned about her new relationship on Facebook. Nice looking guy actually. Checked him out. Great set of pictures. Cool major. Saw who his friends were. Seems like a great guy. Met him in person a few weeks later. Yep, great guy.

The following week I received an invitation from a business associate with whom I’ve done work in years past, and who is part of my professional network on LinkedIn. Nick, what are you, weird?! What are you doing on Facebook? Don’t you see my press pass? Hannah Montana for crying out loud!

I accepted his invitation. Didn’t want to be rude.

I surfed for information on a student. Checked out his friends. His dad is on Facebook. Picture and everything. Yeesh. Preferences? His dad’s favorite book? I asked this 22-year-old how he felt about his dad being on Facebook. “Cool!” Huh. I stare at my press pass, wondering if I’ve bypassed a coolness acceleration moment by remaining a non-committed Facebook lurker. I mean, someone has to provide adult supervision here.

I asked one of my daughters some time later why I never see her on MSN Messenger anymore. “Mostly I chat on Facebook now, Dad.” OK. Hmmm. I log back in. I’ve received an invitation request from… my wife?! What is THAT all about?! “The girls showed me how to get set up on Facebook and I decided to see what all the hoo-hah was about.” You go girl. I’ll stay here in the back, away from the Hannah Montana mosh pit of adolescent energy.

Next week I check out my wife’s profile, which publicly declares that she is, in fact, married to me. She has posted a profile, and it includes a picture of… US. My cover is blown. My visage is now on Facebook. Oh dear. What to do? Her list of friends now includes a healthy chunk of our extended family, most of them college age, all of whom think my wife has scored some sort of pinnacle of coolness.

They all start inviting me to be their friends as well. Riding my wife’s coolness coattails. Not the first time. I accept all incoming requests, as long as I know them.

One week later, family pictures begin to show up in photo albums on my wife’s page, visible only to individuals whom she has personally accepted into her network of friends. (Whew! I taught her that one, after my Education Week classes on Internet Safety.) Great pictures. How come I’ve never seen these before? “They’ve been on my laptop, but I figured I’d share them with the entire extended family.” Pictures of our April trip to Hawaii. The extended family is going crazy. Comments on the pictures. I can’t resist. I add a few comments of my own. My wife likes them. She thinks I’m funny. 🙂 Always a positive score in the Knutson household when the mom thinks the dad is funny.

More invitations, more pictures, the mom feels “Happy and Content,” according to her Facebook page. Yesterday her page announces that she “is looking forward to date night. It’s the best night of the week!” That’s date night with me, BTW. More upswing on the home front. On my page, Facebook implores me to “Update your status…” Like I want the world to know my status.

I ponder the press pass. I break down. I post a picture of myself. Of course the mom is in the photo. Touche’. I accept eight more invitations from people I care about a great deal.

Baby steps…

Student Blogs

This Fall at BYU I’ve returned to teaching CS 404 (Computers and Society) after a one year hiatus. One new twist I’ve implemented is to require all students in the class to create a public blog and post their work for the world to see. My motivation is for the students to discover that broader audiences exist for writing than TAs and professors. From what I’ve seen so far, this simple twist alone has induced a dramatically higher quality of writing in the students than I’ve seen in semesters past.

So by way of introduction to my small but loyal readership, I hereby introduce you to a set of talented, up-and-coming writers and imminent Computer Science graduates, the Fall 2007 CS 404 students of Brigham Young University. You will find links to their 36 individual blogs in the blogroll in the right-hand column.

[Restrained but considerate applause please… Thank you.]

Do you dare turn down this invitation?!

Yesterday I received an invitation for a LinkedIn connection from a friend and former student named Christian (last name obscured for his privacy).

LinkedIn invitations allow the recipient to indicate whether the inviter is an actual acquaintance, helping to regulate unwanted advances of the type so prevalent on less professionally-oriented social networks.

What’s interesting in this case, is what happened when LinkedIn abbreviated for the buttons…


There are some ominous spiritual overtones here, to be sure…

In case anybody is wondering, I clicked on “Accept.” 🙂

Junior high humor — There were no survivors

It’s not often that one of my kids lays down some adolescent humor on the home front that I hadn’t already heard 30 years ago, when I was their age. Generally such attempts weren’t particularly funny when I was in junior high school, and are even less so now. Unlike cheese, lousy humor doesn’t age well.

So this last week one of my kids asked me, “What’s red, and not there?”

“I give up. What’s red, and not there?”

“No tomatoes.”

I think that’s hilarious. Still wondering just why but it makes me smile.

This rare score by my youngsters brought to mind one of my favorite childhood memories. I was in junior high school, and had just stumbled on the greatest joke of all time, which I needed to share immediately with my dad.

“An airplane crashes on the border between the U.S. and Canada. Where do they bury the survivors?”

My dad looked at me, completely serious, and said, “There were no survivors.”

Education Week resources

I want to thank all the BYU Campus Education Week attendees who dropped into one or more of my classes this week on Internet Safety. I’ve had a great week and have really enjoyed the interactions with you.

Here’s a summary of the eight classes:

  1. What are your kids doing on the Internet? — A look at various technologies such as instant messaging, peer-to-peer applications, etc.
  2. Who’s watching your kids on the Internet? — Understanding the tactics of predators and knowing what you can do to protect your children.
  3. What are your kids finding on the Internet? — Identifying threats and establishing safety guidelines
  4. Why would someone want my identity? — Learning to safeguard your information.
  5. Malicious email — Avoiding spam, phishing attacks, etc.
  6. Malicious software — Avoiding viruses, worms, spyware, etc.
  7. Online gaming — Being aware of the dangers and establishing safety guidelines.
  8. Handheld devices — Understanding the dangers on the new frontier.

As promised, I’ve made PDF files of all the slides I presented. If you click on the following link (, you should see all the slides. Depending on the interface of your browser, you should be able to either open them there or download them. The PDF file format requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is a very standard (and free) program. If you don’t have it, you can download it and install it for free here.

If you have any additional questions or comments, please email me. I’d love to hear from you. Remember that I’m heading into the start of Fall semester in one week, so you may experience a several week lag in response time from me as I try to dig out of the inevitable crunch that happens at the beginning of the school year.

If you have ward or stake leaders who would like more information about the materials from the classes, or who might have questions about any of the things we talked about, please pass my email address to them (, and I’ll do my best to respond as quickly as I can. This issue of Internet safety has significant moral implications for our lives (and the lives of our children), and I wish you the best as you grapple with these challenges. Please let me know if you have ideas or suggestions that might help me broaden the reach of this material.

If you have specific comments that might be of value to other attendees (or other visitors to this blog), feel free to leave a comment below.

Advanced Nutrition… Hairball Formula?!

Where have I been for the past umpteen years that we’ve owned cats? Obviously not spending enough time in the grocery store perusing the cat food selection. I was sent on a quest for cat food last night, so I began dutifully scanning my options in the cat food section of the local grocery store. The following stack of bags caught my eye, and this photograph should convince you that I am not making this up.


This is Purina Cat Chow, for adult cats, as you can clearly see. You can also see that this is “Advanced Nutrition Hairball Formula”. What can this possibly mean? I’m not sure I want to know. But I am comforted that this product is “Formulated with Yogurt”! And is in fact “Made with real chicken.” The hairballs are, no doubt, artificial.

“That’s not the real Mona Lisa…”

The following is a true story. I swear it on my hardback copy of “The Da Vinci Code.”

I’m in Paris about eight years ago with my wife on a business trip. Naturally we’re going to see the sights (or is it sites?). I’m stoked to visit the Louvre for one fundamental reason: the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. I make my way to the room with a mass of people, try to get close enough to take a decent picture. I find a fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass.


I’m standing there absolutely soaking it up! In my mind I’m saying, “I am standing in the Louvre museum in Paris, and that is the actual Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci!” One of the euphoric highlights of my life. For about 15 seconds.

At about this moment an American man strolls up close to me with his kid, looks at the painting behind the plexiglass and says to his kid, dead serious, in a clearly audible voice, “Of course you know that isn’t the real Mona Lisa. The real one is currently on tour somewhere, and they put this fake one behind the glass to keep the tourists happy.”

I turn and look at the man, incredulous. My mind is now processing several threads of thought at approximately the same time: 1) Have I just seen the real Mona Lisa or not? 2) Why on earth did this man have to stroll up to me at this moment and say that to his son? 3) What kind of man would take his son all the way from America to the Louvre museum in Paris and tell him that this Mona Lisa isn’t real? 4) How can this man possibly know anything about the real Mona Lisa in the first place?! 5) Can I possibly inflict some sort of bodily injury upon this man without eliciting a hostile response from the ample security detail surrounding the Mona Lisa? 6) Why do I even consider the possibility that this guy might be telling the truth instead of dismissing it out of hand?!

Over several years of pondering, I have arrived at the following answers: 1) Probably. 2) Fate. 3) A clueless one. 4) He probably can’t. 5) Not inside the building. 6) Gullible personality I guess.

I have therefore concluded that I probably did, in fact, see the actual Mona Lisa behind bullet-proof plexiglass with a crowd of people in the Louvre eight years ago.

About five years later, when I visited Paris with my second daughter Brooke, a high school senior at the time, we stood in the same room before the same fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass. I said to Brooke, “Can you believe it?! The actual Mona Lisa!” She smiled, clearly experiencing a euphoric moment. I looked around furtively in the off chance that some clueless American would force an end to our reverie. No such misfortune this time. We were safe in our moment of awe.

So my daughter got to go to Paris, inside the Louvre, and stand before Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Me? I’m still not completely sure…